Their use of instant messaging for rapid communication, as opposed to voice contact, is a phenomenon that I must admit has never appealed to me.
I excuse myself on this one by convincing myself that I’m an ancient fossil; after all my computing experience goes all the way back to the dark ages of MS-DOS 1. Not quite the days of the Dinosaurs; but close.
My comfort zone in communications is a telephone, used the old fashioned way for immediacy, or email where immediacy is not an issue. The reality is however, that programs such as MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, AIM, and a basket full of other IM applications, are extremely popular with the younger generation, like my younger friends, who want real-time contact with each other.
Regrettably, from a security perspective these applications can present considerable security risks. Generally, security risks occur when these programs are used to share files, folders, or in some cases, even entire drives. Instant messaging, unfortunately, is a primary channel used by cyber-criminals to distribute malware.
As Wikipedia explains it, hackers use two methods of delivering malicious code through IM: delivery of virus, Trojan, or spyware within an infected file, and the use of “socially engineered” text, with a web address that entices the recipient to click on a URL that connects him or her, to a website that then downloads malicious code. Viruses, worms, and Trojans typically propagate by sending themselves rapidly through the infected user’s buddy list.
Follow these tips to ensure you are protected when using instant messaging.
- Don’t click on links, or download files from unknown sources. You need to be alert to the dangers in clicking on links, or downloading files from sources that are not known to you. Even if the files or links apparently come from someone you know, you have to be positive that it really was this person who has sent the message.
- Check with your contact to be sure the files, or links are genuine. Remember, if you click on those links, or run those attachments without confirmation, you run the risk of letting malware into your computer.
- Use only secure passwords, and be sure to change them regularly. The longer and more varied they are – using a variety of different characters and numbers – the more secure they will be.
- Protect personal and confidential information when using IM. Revealing confidential or personal information in these types of conversations can make you an easy target for Internet predators.
- For added protection when using a public computer, ensure that you disable any features that retain login information to prevent other users from gaining access to your instant messaging once you leave.
- It’s virtually impossible to avoid publishing your email address on the Internet, however do so only when absolutely necessary. Cyber criminals are always on the lookout for accounts to target.
The risk here goes beyond malware, as sadly, they could come into contact with undesirable or even dangerous individuals.
Elsewhere on this site you can read an article on protecting your children on the Internet and download free software to help you do this.
ParentalControl Bar, a browser toolbar, is one solution provided free of charge, by WRAAC.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing free, and effective Internet control tools.
Check out my review of this free application on this site “Free Internet Child Protection – Parental Control Bar”.
For information on monitoring your child’s cell phone usage (most cell phones today are really Internet connected devices), see “Parental Monitoring and Cellular Phones” by my tech wizard friend TechPaul.